May 18, 2020 Interviews

The entrepreneurial journey of Enrico Pandian: from software development to Supermercato24 and FrescoFrigo

Enrico Pandian is a serial entrepreneur, founder of 19 start-ups, including the well-know Supermercato24 and FrescoFrigo.

Enrico began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 19, right after finishing high school. He studied as software developer in Verona, Italy.

Q: You are a serial entrepreneur who have started companies in a number of different industries, such as advertising, marketing and food delivery. Can you tell us how it all started?

Enrico: It’s true, I began at a very young age to launch new businesses, right after high school. It all began because, in the early 2000s, I met Marco Benatti, one of the three founders of [the first web portal ever in Italy], who is from Verona like me. At that time, my job was developing software, and Marco encouraged me to look at something different.

So, together with Marco, I launched, a project that unfortunately lasted 6 months, but that allowed me to approach the consumer web world, which fascinated me.

After, I founded many other companies. One of the first big companies was, an online container of notes for high school students, which I sold to in 2006, when the company turnover was more than 1 billion Italian Lire.

Then I moved to marketing, I founded David Brown, a guerrilla marketing agency. When I realised that marketing was not very scalable, I moved back to digital, that’s what I believe I do best. So, in 2010, I founded PrezziPazzi, a website with more than 1.5 million users in Italy, and with a turnover of approx. € 4 million. And then, I founded Supermercato24, the first Italian same-day delivery service for online grocery.

So yes, I started from marketing, and that was very useful – it still fascinates me – but my heart is technological, I am a former developer after all.

Q: How did you get to food delivery? How did you approach the sector?

Enrico: It was an opportunity I spotted. I was living in London at the time of PrezziPazzi. I used to spend 3 or 4 days in London during the week, and then go back to Verona for the weekends. In London, I used Ocado for my grocery shopping, and I found it handy and convenient.

When I finished the PrezziPazzi project, I returned to Verona, and then I realised that there wasn’t a single company or retailer delivering grocery to the part of the city where I still live, beyond the river.

I run some first analysis, and so I realised that, at that time, there was a monopolist in the food delivery industry. Therefore, I thought there was the opportunity to enter in that market, and get some market share.

I started barely knowing the food retailing industry and the market players, and I probably started at the right time.

Retailers and owners of large grocery groups thought I was crazy. Another crazy man who had done something similar in Italy was Caprotti, the founder of Esselunga. But Caprotti had money when he started, I didn’t.

So, I entered into a completely new market to me, but applying different dynamics, the digital ones. I didn’t enter with the classic logics used by traditional retailers (such as real estate, finance). My goal was to create a company with no capex [or fixed assets]. And this is probably the reason why I survived in a such structured and competitive market.

So, I wrote the code of the first Supermercato24’s website in 1 month, I put it online, I started going grocery shopping for my customers, I did it personally for the first 20 days to understand what people wanted, and then Supermercato24 became what you know now.

Q: Now that Supermercato24 is a scale-up, you spotted another opportunity, which you are pursuing with FrescoFrigo. Can you tell us more about it?

Enrico: After Supermercato24, I founded another company, Checkout Technologies, that builds supermarkets without cashiers. So FrescoFrigo, which is a 1sqm retail store close to the consumers, is the consequence of these two previous experiences.

In fact, I have noticed that the ways through which consumers buy grocery have changed over time. Consumers are now looking for comfort and convenience. They increasingly prefer to go shopping at nearby stores instead of big hypermarkets.

I am also focused on automation, and I believe that, in the future, stores will no longer have employees to serve customers, but robots or other kind of technologies. FrescoFrigo is, indeed, a smart fridge, it is an automated proximity selling point of quality, fresh and healthy product.

But the scope of FrescoFrigo is much broader. We want to create a new market for restaurants and the whole food industry, much closer to the consumer.

This made a lot of sense to me before Covid-19. As a matter of fact, restaurants have in-store space limits, they started to sell online 5 years ago thanks to the food delivery (which now represents 20%-30% of their turnover), and now they can also sell through FrescoFrigo, a last inch delivery system.

With Covid-19, FrescoFrigo makes even more sense, as we can offer an additional 1smq retail space to restaurants.

This crisis has certainly accelerated certain dynamics, it has saved us many years in terms of digital development and innovation.

Q: You mentioned Covid-19. What happened to FrescoFrigo with the burst of the coronavirus emergency? How long did it take you to react?

Enrico: We reacted in 10 days. In the first 3 days, we were busy with some fridge installations, and I remember I looked at the daily sales chart and saw it constantly at zero. [FrescoFrigo first target is medium and large companies, employing at least 100 people or more].

Then, we started to look at what happened in China, we talked to our consumers, I personally called some of them, and ask them what their companies and employers were doing. They were still working; they just changed the workplace. So, we asked them if they wanted a FrescoFrigo fridge in their residential complexes. Within 5 days, we installed the first fridge.

Now, residential complexes represent another segment for our business. It is a way to reduce risk, because we cover two different types of locations, we partner with different suppliers – in terms of product types and size – we can scale differently. Residential complexes are very interesting and, above all, up to date.

Q: How the business is going? What are the expected developments of FrescoFrigo?

Enrico: As of today, we have 29 fridges installed in residential complexes, and we are negotiating the installation of about 1,000 additional fridges in Milan. Retailers [that manages the operations of the FrescoFrigo fridges] are ready to take 1,000 fridges under management. On the other hand, we encounter some difficulties with residential complexes.

So, we are starting to scale, because the project is interesting and it attracts investors; with more money we can grow faster, therefore we are organising the company to be ready for this kind of growth.

In Italy, we are present in Milan and Rome. We also have a fridge in New York and one in London, those will be our next target countries.

Q: One last question: what do you think of the Italian start-ups ecosystem?

Enrico: Across the world, venture capital has slowed down, trying to understand what is going on – apart from some firms that are very speculative. To me this is positive.

The problem we have in Italy is that we think too small, and we have to start thinking much bigger. Only in this way, we can hope to attract experienced investors with bigger tickets. Italian people must understand that Italy is not the market, we are Europeans, so Europe should be our first target country, and then the rest of the world. As I always say, we have to think about making companies that employ thousands of people, and that give back hundreds of millions to our investors.

FrescoFrigo is raising money through a crowdfunding campaign: check it out at this LINK!